Herrick Memorial Library at Alfred University

  • Archives & Special Collections
  • Herrick Memorial Library
  • Alfred University
  • 1 Saxon Drive
  • Alfred, NY 14802
  • 607-871-2385 (Phone)
  • 607-871-2299 (Fax)

Calligraphic Drawing by Valorus Joshua McElheney

This calligraphic drawing is the work of Valorus J. McElheney of Black Creek, NY (Born May 7, 1845; Died Jan. 27, 1911). He was a soldier with the Company B, 2nd Regiment, NY Mounted Rifles during the Civil War and lost his right arm while in service. Since he wrote with his right hand, he was discouraged about his inability to write when he returned to civilian life.

At age 21 he attended Alfred University from Sept. 1867 through March 1868 where he was taught how to write and draw with his left hand. The drawing was presented to the University by his daughter, Leah McElheney Williams, in 1956 as a memento of the excellent rehabilitation services rendered to him. The 1892 NY State Census listed him as a farmer in New Hudson. (Black Creek, his actual home, is a hamlet within the Town of New Hudson, located within Allegany County, NY.)

The drawing is 31" x 80 1/2" and was signed by the artist on December 11, 1867. It was made with iron gall ink; the red and blue colors are still quite intense. It's titled "Why Not Learn to Write?"

Two other drawings (of the exact same image) by two different students at Alfred University are also known to exist: 
1) Dated June 11, 1866, artist: James C. Saterlee, location: Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art
2) Dated 1858, artist: William O. Place, location: Genesee Country Museum at Mumford, NY